America’s most recent Formula One World Champion, Mario Andretti, laughed when I asked him if Lotus asked him to fill in for the injured Kimi Raikkonen.
As for the actual replacement for Raikkonen – Finnish countryman Heikki Kovalainen – Andretti couldn’t help but praise the veteran who hadn’t even sat in the chassis until Thursday.
“Heikki’s been very comfortable there from the word go,” said the Circuit of the Americas ambassador and racing legend. “For him to do so well part-time is an incredible effort.”
Kovalainen ended fifth on Friday – fitting right in with the team – and made Q3 this afternoon to start P8. Teammate Romain Grosjean unleashed the E21’s full potential with a run to third in qualifying, continuing his excellent run of form in the second half of the season.
Andretti also opined on two of F1’s most iconic teams, each of whom has struggled at times this season. He said he was “surprised” by Ferrari’s relative lack of pace – Fernando Alonso struggled to sixth while Felipe Massa failed to advance out of Q2, in 15th.
As for McLaren, which made Q3 with Sergio Perez, Andretti said they’ve punched above their weight this weekend as they hold onto fifth place in the Constructor’s Championship.
Audi bid farewell to its iconic head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, at its end-of-season ‘Race Night’ event in Germany on Friday upon his retirement.
Ullrich took over the reins as Audi’s head of motorsport in 1993 and stayed in the role for 23 years, overseeing its arrival in the prototype class of sports car racing and domination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Ullrich stepped down from the position at the end of 2016, handing the reins over to ex-Audi DTM chief Dieter Gass, and attended his final racing event with the German marque at its first works Formula E outing in Hong Kong earlier this month.
Ullrich was honored at the Race Night event on Friday and thanked for his efforts in developing Audi into a force within global motorsport.
“In 566 factory-backed commitments during this period he celebrated 209 victories, 13 of them in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eleven in the 12-hour race at Sebring and nine in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ at Road Atlanta,” a piece on Ullrich’s tenure for Audi’s website reads.
“31 driver titles in super touring car racing, in the DTM and in the sports prototype category are credited to him. 57 campaigners were Audi factory drivers during Wolfgang Ullrich’s era and he was responsible for 18 new developments of racing cars – an impressive tally.”